4 Key ACL Swimming and Water Exercises After Surgery to Accelerate Your ACL Tear Recovery!

The swimming pool is a highly effective method for ACL tear recovery

Damaging the Anterior Cruciate Ligament is an emotionally sensitive injury that can be devastating, especially in the world of sports.

Due to the severity of this type of injury, ACL tear recovery requires careful planning and progressive sets of exercises. In a lot of individual cases, having ACL reconstruction surgery can be a difficult decision because the rehabilitation period can take as long as 12 months.

Swimming after ACL surgery is one activity that is highly effective and should be built into the ACL tear recovery of every program. Getting wet and in the pool is an easy way to get back into exercise post-surgery.

As part of your ACL rehabilitation program, swimming and water activities can be used to increase strength and flexibility and can be started as early as three weeks post ACL operation.

In addition, water exercises are low-impact and can be completed with lower levels of pain compared to what might be expected for similar movements outside of the pool.

4 water exercises to help with your ACL tear recovery

Swimming and water exercises can begin three weeks post-surgery, as long as the incision from surgery heals in the proper manner and there are no complications.

These exercises can include simple range of motion exercises, light swimming, bicycle exercises in the water, but no kicking or breaststroke.

However, it is critical that the stitches are removed and the wound has completely healed, otherwise, chemicals from the pool or other elements might cause infection and setback the ACL tear recovery process.

It is also important to consult your physician before starting water exercises.

Water exercises are considered a key component of your ACL tear recovery and will help strengthen and enrich the flexibility in your knee.

ACL Water Exercise 1 – Walking

Start by walking in the water at approximately waist height.  Water walking is an excellent first-up aqua exercise to help you regain your balance and add some lightweight resistance.

Begin with 5 minutes of walking per session. Gradually increase the time spent water-walking up to 30 minutes per session, with a focus on trying to walk as normally as possible.

Improving your walking after ACL surgery to achieve full weight-bearing outside of the pool will be significantly aided by water walking in the early phases of your recovery.

Learning to flex and extend your knee during your ACL recovery can be a demanding process, but water exercises are low impact and can help you a lot.

ACL Water Exercise 2 – Knee Lifts

Swimming After ACL Surgery Knee Lifts

Knee lifts are an excellent way to improve knee flexibility, range of motion, and your ability to extend the knee.

Start by standing straight in chest-high water, feet shoulder-width apart, and with your back to a wall for stability.

Then slowly raise the affected knee to waist height, which is approximately parallel to the surface of the water.

Next slowly lower and fully straighten the ACL knee back down to a standing position. Repeat this exercise slowly 10 times.

ACL Water Exercise 3 – Knee to Chest

Knee-to-chest stretches are another crucial exercise during the early stages of your ACL recovery that will help navigate and improve your knee’s full range of motion.

This exercise can be done in the standing position or by sitting on a bench with water up to shoulder level and feet flat on the ground. Place your hands under your thigh and pull your knee up to as close to your chest as comfortable.  Hold this position for 5 seconds.

Slowly lower your knee back down to the resting position.

Start with ten repetitions for each set and increase the amount per session as the knee recovers.

Swimming After ACL Surgery Knee To Chest

ACL Water Exercise 4 – Water Jogging

After strengthening the knee ligament, the next step in an ACL tear recovery is introducing water jogging which will help you to continue to build strength.

Water jogging is normally possible at around week 6 post-surgery once you feel comfortable with walking normally in the water.

As a further progression, once you become comfortable and confident with water jogging then you can gradually increase the intensity to straight-line sprinting in the water (usually possible at about 8-10 weeks after surgery).

Continue with your water exercises 3 times a week for 30 minutes.  This is in addition to your daily ACL rehab exercises.

Advanced swimming exercises for your ACL tear recovery

Lap swimming after ACL surgery

Lap swimming-front crawl technique

Next, you may also consider advancing your exercises with some lap swimming to improve fitness and strength. However, be sure not to do any kicking until at least 8 weeks post-surgery. It is also important not to put excessive pressure on the anterior cruciate ligament.

Start with an easier swimming exercise with a flotation device between your legs to limit kicking. This trick will help keep your legs on the surface of the water and will ease the pressure while allowing you to swim with the use of your upper body.

Start swimming by focusing mainly on the upper body using the front crawl technique. This approach will put less pressure on your legs but is also a good way to get fit and physically active without hurting your knee. Only do straight leg kicking.

Straight leg kicking

After 8 weeks post-surgery, move into straight leg kicking when you feel comfortable. Start light and gradually build the duration and intensity of the swim sessions.

Other swimming strokes

Once you manage to swim without any sensation of pain, you might consult your physician about transitioning to the butterfly or breaststroke swimming techniques. However, only proceed to these two swimming strokes if there is no pain experienced.

5 reasons why swimming and water exercises work well for ACL injuries

1. Complete movements with greater care:

Water exercises allow you to complete movements and exercise more naturally and earlier in your ACL recovery timeline than what otherwise would have been possible outside of the water.

2. Absorb a higher proportion of your body weight:

In water, you can absorb a higher percentage of your body weight which is particularly important during the early stages of your ACL recovery.

3. Positively reinforces your mental approach:

Achieving success with specific movements and activities will be easier and come faster in the water which positively reinforces your outlook towards achieving your ACL recovery goals.  This can be both motivational and beneficial to your mental well-being.

4. Water viscosity improves strength: 

Working your body and bad leg against the natural viscosity of water helps improve strength in a safer and controlled environment.

5. Safe environment for your rehabilitation:

Due to the resistance properties in the water, an athlete will be naturally protected against becoming too over-exuberant when completing exercises.


Overall to supplement your ACL surgery recovery, you should exercise in the water for approximately 20 to 30 minutes three times per week.

The above ACL water exercises are in addition to your other ACL knee exercises as discussed with your physician!

After 3 weeks post ACL surgery, and once your stitches have been removed, you can start getting yourself active and moving in water! This is a great addition to your ACL rehab program!

Water Exercise Number 1:

Walking in a straight line in chest-high water

Straight-line walking in waist-high water will reduce weight-bearing loads during exercise and help you return to a normal walking pattern post ACL surgery!

Water Exercise Number 2:

Knee lifts while standing in chest-high water!

Knee lifts will rapidly increase your knee’s range of motion and flexibility!

Water Exercise Number 3:

Knee to chest — sitting in shoulder-high water

Sitting on a ledge in shoulder-high water, knee-to-chest exercises will advance your knee’s range of motion to the next level!

Water Exercise Number 4:

Jogging in chest-high water

Practise your jogging in chest-high water. This will assist with progressing balance in your knee. Only proceed with water jogging if there is no knee pain experienced!

Advanced swimming exercises

At about 8 weeks post ACL surgery, you can introduce lap swimming and other swimming strokes in consultation with your physician.

Start by using a pool buoy to limit kicking!

Good Luck With Your ACL Surgery Rehabilitation!

Click the link below for a copy of your Free ACL Recovery Checklist:


Video – ACL swimming and water exercises after surgery

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